The holiday season is upon us and you may be feeling heavier than usual following Thanksgiving Day and all the leftovers! Did you know there’s a strong connection between the gut microbiota and the immune system? Some scientists believe the gut can be considered a separate endocrine organ in fact. Changes in the composition and metabolic activity of the gut microbiota can, in turn, affect our health and different disease processes. Over the last five years, studies have suggested that exercise enhances the beneficial gut bacteria, enriches its diversity, and improves the development of it.
For successful digestion to occur, we want the nervous system to be in a parasympathetic state, also conveniently known as “rest and digest”. The parasympathetic state lets the body know that it’s okay to slow down and focus on digestion, as opposed to being in a state of readiness for fight or flight. It’s during this rest and digest phase that the stomach makes its digestive enzymes and mucous for proper breakdown and absorption of food.
The vagus nerve is one of our cranial nerves and exits the brainstem, running down to the neck, chest and abdomen. It’s actually the longest nerve in our body and forms a major part of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). In addition to the heart and lungs, it innervates the smooth muscle of the gut, which pushes the food through the entire digestive system. Here are some examples of ways to stimulate the vagus nerve and improve digestion:
- Low intensity yoga – think restorative, gentle yoga, or Stretch class.
- Deep breathing and meditative exercise – the idea is to breathe out more slowly than you breathe in, allowing the stimulation of the PNS.
- Singing – perhaps that’s why I simply cannot help but break out into song during class? 🙂
- Sleeping on your right side shows greater vagus nerve stimulation than the left; lying on the back is thought to decrease vagal stimulation.
Finally is there anything more LYT than “more core”?? Core work such as abdominal exercises are believed to stimulate movement of the bowels through the digestive system, which promotes an overall improved healthy gut. Similarly, brisk walking helps speed up the time it takes food to move from the stomach to the small intestine.
So don’t let eating too much at the holidays be an excuse not to exercise or get on your mat, but rather think of it as a reason to do so! Stimulate your vagus nerve with a gentle yoga, meditation, or stretch class on LYT Daily and get that parasympathetic nerve system going. Go with your gut, rest and digest your way to a healthier and happier you!